The dictionary just got thicker


Hi. I’m Darin, and I’m a word nerd.

To be more precise, I’m a word nerd of the English language. I love how it is an ever-evolving language that adapts to changing times and changing vernacular, and it takes on the form of a living, breathing organism as it continues to morph itself to stay current.

And it’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Each year, the New Oxford American Dictionary releases those words which have infiltrated the English lexicon enough to merit inclusion in the dictionary. And each year, Tricia Titus and myself exchange e-mails and jokes about those new words which have obtained legitimacy in the dictionary. Needless to say, I was excited when I received an e-mail from Tricia earlier this week containing a cnn.com story on the new words allowed admittance into New Oxford.

The new words have historically sprung from slang expressions, or dealing with new species of bird, animal, mammal or fish. However, the past six years or so have been dominated largely by those words that have come from new advances in technology, and the social ramifications that stem from those advances. In a way, not much has changed, as the new-age technological words that demand inclusion in the dictionary are often just new slang terms adopted through social networking sites and e-mails.

As we evolve and change, as does our language.

The new “word of the year,” according to the story, is “unfriend.” This stems directly from those aforementioned social networking sites, as “unfriend” is now defined in New Oxford as “To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”

Alas, this is the ultimate indignity on these sites. To be cast aside on somebody’s “friends” list is akin to being shunned. It is a public banishment, and one that stems from any number of causes — for instance, the “unfriended” either did something to the “unfriender” or the “unfriender” decided to do a little maintenance on his or her site and let go a few people who he or she just wasn’t talking to anymore.

Either way, the message is received loudly and clearly. That person does not wish to be friends with the other person any longer.

As fatalistic as that sounds, and, yeah, it kind of is, there were other words to make the cut in New Oxford this year that were created from our new technologically-based world. For instance, new to the dictionary this year is “hashtag,” the symbol (#) often put on Twitter messages (or, “tweets”) to make them stand out easier for readers. The small portable laptops we’ve all seen popping up more and more these days are called “netbooks,” and you’ll be able to find that word in the New Oxford American Dictionary.

One of the new technologically-inspired words to be adapted into the language this year is “intexicated.” This is the state of mind that drivers often find themselves in as they are distracted while driving because they are busy sending text messages on their cell phones. I’ve personally had this experience in the past, but have stopped the habit of driving and texting after a few close calls with guardrails, rumble strips and the occasional bicyclist on the side of the road. Consider me cured, but consider the word legit.

And, yeah, you can look this one up in the newest edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary, as well. The word “sexting” is now in the English language, and it describes explicit texts or photos on cell phones. I’m wondering what this is called if you’re sending these messages to yourself. And, is this what the nuns were talking about way back ...

But I digress.

This year’s new words were not only specific to technology. Also making the cut for New Oxford is “zombie bank,” which is a financial institution still operating even though its assets are worth less than its liabilities. Suffice it to say, there are enough zombie banks to keep Woody Harrelson busy for months.

Also added to the vocabulary this year is “birther,” which Oxford defines as “a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s U.S. birth certificate.”

I am so happy that is what “birther” was described as, since my first glance at the term had me a little concerned that New Oxford was heading sexist there for a minute.

I would have had to unfriended them at that point.